Revolution #75, January 7, 2007
Echoes of Nazi Germany: Brutal Government Roundups of Immigrants
Revolution is asking its readers to help uncover the hidden stories about the Swift & Co. raids and other recent attacks on immigrants. If you or someone in your family were affected by these raids, or if you are an advocate or lawyer for immigrants, please send us reports about what has and is happening. Your name and any other identifying information will not be used without your permission.
Imagine: For one moment, step into the shoes of an immigrant. You are forced to come here in order to have any kind of future for yourself or your children--and because U.S. imperialism has made it impossible for this to happen in your own country. You go deeply into debt for the privilege of risking your life to cross the razor wire and death fields of the border, where more than 400 people die every year trying to cross. You finally get here, only to find yourself working in the sweaty, deadly hell of the slaughterhouse, where you can feel your life bleeding away bit by bit. And every day you live in fear--that you might never come home from work, or that a routine traffic stop might mean never seeing your children again. Which is exactly what happened last month to nearly 1,300 people.
December 12 in Greeley, Colorado; Marshalltown, Iowa; Worthington, Minnesota; Grand Island, Nebraska; Cactus, Texas; and Hyrum, Utah: Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials conducted the largest ever workplace immigration raids on a single employer in the history of the United States.
More than 1,280 people were rounded up and detained at meatpacking plants operated by Swift, a major agricultural giant. Officers in riot gear with military weapons stormed the plants, locked the doors, and hunted down immigrants like animals, sending some running in terror to hide in pig pens.
The Salt Lake City Union-Tribune quoted one worker describing a raid in Hyram, Utah, that was reminiscent of Nazi Germany: light-skinned and white-looking workers were given blue wrist bands and allowed to step out of line, and those "suspected" of being undocumented, mostly darker-skinned immigrants, were lined up to be interrogated and many arrested.
The workers were loaded onto buses, in some cases with family members crying and searching for their loved ones to wave goodbye. Some were coerced, while still handcuffed, into signing agreements to "voluntarily" leave the United States. Kim Salinas, an immigration rights attorney, told Democracy Now! how lawyers were kept from advising detainees before they signed their own deportation papers. The rest were taken to federal and state jails all around the country, and in many cases, families and lawyers had no idea where the arrested immigrants had been taken. One immigration lawyer said he believed that workers had been sent to Atlanta, Georgia--more than 900 miles away.
In some cases, children were left at schools and day care centers, waiting for parents who never showed up. In other cases, family members scrambled to hide the children for fear they, too, would be deported. The Salt Lake Tribune told this story:
“Now, the children of those workers are left to wonder why their mom or dad isn't coming home. They are left to wonder what will happen to them--a feeling that has manifested itself in elementary schools across the valley, teachers say. Children refused to go outside for recess at Adams Elementary, fearing that they might be snatched, an aide said. Some students didn't come back to school at all. At Bridger Elementary, children wouldn't eat school lunch. Their tummies hurt, a teacher said. Janey Stoddard teaches first grade at Bridger, which had almost two dozen students affected by the raid. She remembers asking one of her tiny Latino students how she was doing. The child responded that she was OK, then turned back and said, "Ms. Stoddard, I'm not doing OK." The girl began to cry and asked, 'Am I ever going to see my mom again?'”
Elizabeth Barnhill, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and Laurie Schipper, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, sent out an email that said: "There are many awful stories emerging… a house of 35 children without parents and community members attempting to care for them; a priest trying to find a breast-feeding mother whose infant won't eat and being denied access; the same priest trying to find a father of an asthmatic child to get information about the child's care and again being denied access." According to the e-mail, raids continued when ICE officials also went to individual houses after the December 12 raids and arrested six people in Marshalltown, Iowa.
The Swift and Co. raids were characterized as “identity theft” cases, even though more than 95% of those arrested were charged with minor immigration violations and less than 60 people were charged with “identity theft.”
If you think these raids were routine isolated incidents done for your security think again. This is part of a nation wide fascistic clampdown on immigration law. A recent New York Times article by Nina Bernstein reports a record 189,924 deportations nationally during the 2005-2006 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up 12 percent from the year before. Bernstein's article also talks about the impact of immigrant arrests that have swept through the state of New York. Dozens of workers have been disappearing from farms where they have worked for years—taken in low-profile immigration raids over that past few months. The article reports “Whole families have gone into hiding, like the couple who spent the night with their child in a plastic calf hutch.” Employers and families of immigrants live in panic and anxiety. Even though many oppose the raids, people are afraid to speak out against them, fearing neighbors will report them or their workers, and they will be the next to disappear. The effect of these ongoing attacks is to strike terror into tens of thousands, if not millions, of immigrants all around the country.
This recent enforcement of immigration laws comes in the context of increased repression in the U.S. not just for immigrants but for all--a highly repressive atmosphere with new invasive laws, government spying, and the ripping away of fundamental constitutional rights.
None of the different programs that the ruling class is implementing or considering implementing with regards to immigrants are actually in the interests of immigrants and their families. Nor are these raids and other anti-immigrant measures--and the violation of basic human rights and moves toward fascism in the name of “border security”--a good thing for the masses of people in the United States.
Why are people forced to cross this border in the first place? They are driven to come to the U.S. by conditions that are largely created by imperialist domination and exploitation to begin with. No longer able to live off their land, millions are forced to cross the border to look for a way to feed their families and then end up doing the most dangerous and grueling jobs like working in meatpacking or stoop farm labor. And now these immigrants are the victims of vicious attacks by the U.S. government--scapegoated and subjected to what many ordinary citizens consider Nazi-like raids.
Thomas Hodge, who owns The Real Trading Co. Inc. in southeast Greeley, sells and repairs leather products and Catholic religious items such as Bibles and statues. About half of Hodge's customers are Latino. Talking about the Colorado raids, Hodge told the Denver Post, "I thought it was an atrocity. I wondered if they were taking them to the gas chambers on those buses. I don't think we're going about this the right way… Eventually, I think they should open up the border and let people live where they want."
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